Students at Oberlin College have long enjoyed pastries, bagels and chocolates from Gibson's Bakery, a century-old, family-owned business near campus. That sweet relationship has turned bitter amid hotly disputed accusations of racism, roiling a school and town long known for their liberal politics.
The dispute, which began in November 2016 with the arrest of three black Oberlin students who tried stealing wine from Gibson's, is now a lawsuit in which the exasperated bakery owners accuse the college and a top dean of slandering Gibson's as a "racist establishment" and taking steps to destroy the family's livelihood.
Caught in the middle are longtime residents of this town of 8,300 people, many of whom identify themselves as liberals but who have patronized Gibson's for decades. Many believe the timing was right for the conflict to boil over; the arrests came the day after Donald Trump won the presidential election, electrifying students who had long heard suspicions of racial profiling at Gibson's.
"I can understand why people were looking for some outlet for their frustration, but it's just counterproductive to bend that anger towards a small family business that to my knowledge is not guilty of the sort of racial profiling that people accuse it of," said retired Oberlin professor Roger Copeland.